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Posts Tagged "Chessmen"

The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

High Ground

Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2012

In previous posts, we discussed the origins of chess in India centuries ago. For the final post of this blog, we turn to modern-day India, where chess remains as popular as ever.

The city of Banaras (or Varanasi), in Uttar Pradesh, India, is holy to Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is sometimes celebrated as the "City of Temples," of "Learning," or of "Lights." Located on the banks of the Ganges, it is also subject to relentless flooding.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

End Game

Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chess games are sometimes accurately represented in works of art, but that is not always the case. Consider, for example, this curiously theatrical photograph from the mid-nineteenth century.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Boarded Up

Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Monday, February 27, 2012

The Metropolitan Museum owns more than forty chessboards dating from the Renaissance through the twentieth century; some private collectors have hundreds of boards. Medieval chessboards, on the other hand, rarely survive in any collection, and our knowledge of them depends largely on written sources. While some legends focus uniquely on the fact that they were big and heavy enough to be wielded as lethal weapons (see "An Epic Battle"), more nuanced information can be also gleaned from literature, from chess treatises, and from princely inventories.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Under Their Spell

James Robinson, Curator of Late Medieval Collections, Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2012

From the very moment of their discovery in 1831, the Lewis Chessmen have captured the imagination of all who encounter them. Local legend relates how the peasant who first unearthed them from a sand dune in Uig Bay ran for his life, fearing that they were sprites or elves. The chessmen have certainly worked their magic over the years, acting not only as inspiration to writers of fiction but also to filmmakers and the occasional museum curator.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Carving Out a Collection

Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012

With the purchase of the Lewis Chessmen in 1831, the British Museum created, overnight, the single-most important collection of medieval chess pieces in the world, its holdings rivaled only by the Cabinet des médailles of the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, which houses the famed "Charlemagne" chessmen. So rich is the treasure from the Isle of Lewis that the British Museum was able to lend enough pieces to re-create a famous chess game for our current exhibition while retaining a substantial number of pieces on display in London.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

All Set

Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Tuesday, January 10, 2012

For centuries, chess sets have been crafted from a wide range of materials. The Metropolitan's collection of chess pieces, numbering in the hundreds, ranges geographically from Persia to the United States, and chronologically from as early as the eighth to the twentieth century.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Horsing Around

Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Thursday, December 29, 2011

Long forelocks falling over the eyes, groomed manes, tails that reach to the ground, and a short, stocky frame distinguish the horses ridden by the Knights of the Lewis Chessmen. They seem to resemble today's Icelandic horses. I spoke to Heleen Heyning, a breeder of Icelandic horses at West Winds Farm in upstate New York. She immediately saw the resemblance between the Lewis horses and her own. She noted that Icelandic horses were known across Scandinavia in the Viking area and are thought to have been introduced to Iceland about the year 800. For the last thousand years—that is, since before the Lewis Chessmen were carved—there has been no crossbreeding of Icelandic horses. Therefore, the resemblance we see is not accidental.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Armed to the Teeth

Dirk H. Breiding, Assistant Curator, Department of Arms and Armor; and Michelle Jubin, Intern, Department of Arms and Armor

Posted: Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Knights from the Lewis group embody the visual ideal of a knight on horseback: a mounted warrior, protected by armor and shield, and armed with a sword and a spear, or lance. The Rooks (also known as Warders), rendered as battle-ready infantry, show very similar equipment (excluding the lance).

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

From Tusk to Treasure: Part II

Pete Dandridge, Conservator and Administrator, The Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2011

As I discussed in last week's post, the first step in the creation of these ivory sculptures was for the artist to establish the conceptual placement of each chess piece within the tusk, allowing for each distinct section of ivory to be cut out. The bottom sides of several chessmen retain the parallel marks of successive saw cuts often interspersed with the less regular cuts of chisels and files used to flatten and refine the base. The underside of the Knight from the Metropolitan, for example, shows the gently arching cut of the saw on the bottom right, chisel marks across the top center, and numerous, parallel cuts that resulted from filing.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

From Tusk to Treasure: Part I

Pete Dandridge, Conservator and Administrator, The Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation

Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2011

All works of art strive to alter the perception of the viewer. The most successful meld a unique artistic vision with a thorough understanding of materials and a command of techniques. To discern how artists do what they do so well, conservators draw on a range of resources—including contemporary records of artistic practices, archaeological evidence, previous research, direct observation, and visual and material analyses.

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